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Locals bear brunt of oil spill effects, two years on

A health report has raised the red flag over the surge of respiratory tract infections among children in Miasenyi village, Taita Taveta county, after oil spillage two years ago.

Recent data from a local health facility also shows increase in cases of Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (URTI) from 46 per cent in 2016 to 87 per cent by November 2017 among children aged below five years.

The report, authored by health consultant Dr Harun Mwadali in March and made public last week, attributed the URTI cases to acute exposure to hydrocarbons or hydrogen sulfides—chemical components found in petroleum products.

It faults Kenya Pipeline Company’s (KPC) claims that the spillage was mild and had no health impact as a fallacy. The main pipeline that snakes into several villages, burst in December 2016, spilling volumes of oil around. More than 200 villagers were affected.

“It is clear that residents of Miasenyi are suffering in silence and KPC has abdicated its roles to keep communities safe in their operations,” read parts of the report.

Ambrose Mwaizinga, a residents, said villagers affected by the spillage continue to suffer as KPC and other government agencies remain mum on the issue.

He said the spill had contaminated the air in the village, with a strong petroleum smell still hanging heavily over the area. “We remain forgotten even as we fight strange chest diseases. Children are worst affected,” he said.

After the spillage, KPC dispatched an emergency team to access the situation. Families closest to the spillage moved to safer areas.  The team dug deep trenches to drain the spillage. The company is said to have promised to compensate affected villagers, but it remained just that—a promise.

“They brought bread and soda for children as an apology for the burst and said they will look into this issue after the crisis was handled,” claimed  Mwaizinga.

“The oil permeated soil in our farms. What will be the future effects? When we said we feared for our health, we were told the spillage was too minimal to have any effects,” he added.

In August 2017, Ekuru Aukot’s EA Law Consulting wrote a letter to KPC managing director, KPC demanding compensation for Miasenyi residents. The law firm cited loss of soil fertility, air pollution and break-out of dangerous diseases as after-effects of the spillage. The letter further noted that the KPC officials, in an attempt to contain the disaster, dug deep trenches which were left uncovered exposing the residents to more risks.

“We demand that you admit liability for the said loss and damage after which the issue of compensation and quantum of damages go into,” states the letter dated August  7, 2017.

It remains unclear if the letter was acted on but the residents say no one has ever returned to inform them the way forward. Statistics from Miasenyi dispensary show the residents have the right to fear for their health.

Prior to the spillage, the highest percentage of URTI was at 46 per cent. Immediately after the spillage, 50 per cent of consultations done were secondary to URTI.  By 2017 November, 85 per cent cases were reported.

The health report warns that continued exposure to volatile organic hydrocarbons, could lead to other serious conditions, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, bronchitis and exacerbation of asthma.

The report recommends compensation of residents and rehabilitation of polluted land by KPC and a further health assessment survey to assure residents of their safety.

For many residents like Mwaizinga, it remains to be seen whether KPC will heed their cries. He says the villagers are poor and cannot manage to sue KPC over the issue.  He said National Environment Management Authority (Nema) promised to do an environmental impact report which was never made public.

In 2017, former Taita-Taveta Governor  John Mruttu with some officials from KPC toured the village to assess the impact of the spillage and pledged to pursue the matter with the Energy ministry.

Our calls to KPC head office for comments on the matter went unanswered.                                        KNA

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